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Posts published in February 2009

OR: Prospects for 10

Jason Atkinson

Jason Atkinson

A recommended read on the Oregonian Jeff Mapes blog, about state Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point; Atkinson is a prime prospect for the field of Oregon gubernatorial candidates in 2010.

Should be noted that when he ran for governor in 2006, he finished third - and not an especially close third - in the Republican primary. But that was then. Neither the two contenders who topped him (Kevin Mannix and Ron Saxton) almost certainly are out of the picture for 2010. The dynamic then favored a Republican nominee who would run as the centrist guy (that was supposed to be Saxton), while Atkinson is solidly conservative. But the internal party dynamic may be different next time, especially after the Saxton loss. Atkinson would start this effort with the revival of his old organization, building from there - a better start than most other Republicans not named Smith or Walden would have.

Besides which, there was this: Atkinson displayed excellent campaign skills in 2006, better maybe than his opponents. He delivered a knack for communicating with a centrist tone while not abandoning his essential take on things. He could be a very strong candidate for 2010.

Closing in on a record

Peter DeFazio

Peter DeFazio

Representative Peter DeFazio erred a bit the other day, on a matter of record. From the David Steves blog Capitol Notebook (Eugene Register Guard):

"U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio opened a state Capitol news conference Friday with this bit of trivia: When he completes his current term, in January, 2011, he will have served 24 years—tying the record for longevity for any Oregon congressman." There was a punch line to this: The other 24-year guy, Al Ullman (also a Democrat), went no further because he lost his bid for re-election in 1980, thereby becoming the classic case study of an incumbent losing touch with his district. (DeFazio, who seems also to be mulling a run for governor, is highly unlikely to fall victim to the same problem.)

DeFazio's glitch: Ullman doesn't hold the Oregon/U.S. house longevity record. That is held by Willis Hawley, best known nationally as the co-sponsor of the trade-limiting Smoot-Hawley Tariff, "which raised import tariffs to record levels, and, as many historians claim, contributed to the circumstances which resulted in the Great Depression." He was ousted in 1932, not coincidentally. so one point DeFazio made stands: both representatives serving longer than he has were bounced out by the voters.

Or, as David Sarasohn of the Oregonian wrote in his entertaining rundown today about the state's House delegations, "So on the one hand, Hawley helped make the Great Depression even more depressing. On the other hand, he's the most famous Oregon congressman ever."

(A Sarasohn glitch: "Bob Duncan was elected to the House from the 4th District in the 1960s, then moved to Portland and was elected from the 3rd - the only Oregonian sent to Congress from two different districts." Not the only: There was Denny Smith from the 2nd and 5th; and you could stretch it add Walter Lefferty from the 2nd and 3rd.)

The most notable data point to emerge from looking through the longevity runs of Oregon representatives is how the terms in office generally have been lengthening, Hawley and Ullman notwithstanding. Apart from freshman Kurt Schrader, all of Oregon's current House members are in their sixth terms or more, and Schrader's predecessor was in her sixth. Call that the marker of a trend . . .

Dash that cat

moscow pullman airport

Moscow-Pullman Airport (in the distance)

The Moscow-Pullman Airport, not one of the big hubs, is located out in the rolling Palouse fields more than easy walking distance from either city, and the site of sporadic regional air travel. The main difficulty there is keeping a steady enough flow of flights (a few each from Alaska and Horizon) coming and going. But if you're the Department of Homeland Security (memo to Barack Obama: Please change that name; we need no reminders of Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa), your eye might have been caught by this descriptor line about the airport in Wikipedia:

A cat named "Dash" occupies the airport and freely roams through the security checkpoint.

Well, that Siamese just couldn't stand (even if Dash has been an airport fixture for four years). In his latest email to constituents, state Representative Tom Trail puts on the wry: "Many of us who used the airport looked forward to this friendly feline. However, it is apparent that in reality Dash was a deep undercover terrorist cat trained by Al Qaeda and just waiting to launch an attack on local citizens. Homeland security agents became suspicious when they saw Dash with a deadly weapon - she unsheathed her claws. Agent suspicions also grew in intensity when they realized that over 4 years there had not been a single high jacking, terrorist attack, the sign of a single rodent, and not a single case of bubonic plague at the airport. This perfect record was just too good to be true. Dash was last seen being escorted under armed guard and the rumor is that she is being shipped off to Catanamo for intensive interrogation."

Actually, there's an effort underway to find a new home for Dash.

(There's the argument that someone might be allergic to a cat, and this is why the removal. That will not become credible at least until cats, and dogs, which do regularly travel by plane, are banned from airports even for travel purposes.)

Praise be that the feds are out there to protect us all from a little slice of humanity . . . or felinity.

An immigration sweet spot?

The subject of illegal immigration, subsumed to a degree by the current economic crunch, is bound to rebound - it almost always does in tough times. If it turns into a hot topic that, say, the Obama Administration might want to put away with some efficiency, the search may be on for a political "sweet spot", a point in the debate where some realistic solution (or something close to it) might be found, a place that satisfies no one on the extremes but might find some broad acceptance.

Something like what a group of Idaho business people are suggesting. Wouldn't that be a mind-blower: The Obama Administration drawing from such a source? And yet, as policy, it might be a pretty good fit.

Brent Olmstead of the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform had this to say in a guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman:

Amnesty unfairly rewards those who broke our laws, and mass deportation is unrealistic. Current enforcement policy is centered on undocumented workers who are contributing to our economy. The enforcement priority should target those engaged in criminal activities.

That is why we support a sensible guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing an expedited pathway towards citizenship status. This type of a program in conjunction with increased enforcement at the border will more readily allow the government to know who is entering our country.

A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with a worker ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country. It adds workers to our tax base, generates revenue for needed social services and it satisfies the need that employers have for a reliable labor pool.

Those who are here illegally and want to stay should be assessed a fine, pay any owed back-taxes and submit to and pass a criminal background check. When all of that is completed the individual should be given a renewable work permit that is valid as long as the individual stays employed.

Absolutists on one side or the other won't much like it. But it jumps past the key problems with the absolute answers, from basic practicality to making a joke out of our legal system, to having some realistic control of our borders and a sense of who is and isn't within them. This may be an idea worth some more thought.

Boise’s 9 and 6

Hadn't spotted this before: There's an ongoing attempt to effectively merge (but presumably keeping separate signals) for two Boise-area TV stations, KIVI (Channel 6) and KNIN (Channel 9).

The theory under which that could happen is that KNIN is a "failing station" - failing economically, that is.

In our current environment, will we be seeing a lot more of this? [Hat tip to Idaho Radio News.]

Ada County’s creativity

Ada County

Ada County courthouse

One of the recurring themes of this decade, when the histories are writ, likely will be the hazards of "creative financing." We hear about it most often on the national level, but you can find it locally too. In her new blog, new/returning Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman reports on an example:

In the 1990’s, Ada County taxpayers were told that a public/private partnership would be a means of acquiring a new courthouse at a discounted price. One of the subsidies that was supposed to offset a portion of the cost of paying off the courthouse bonds was parking revenue from the project on an ongoing basis. Boise’s redevelopment agency, Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC), was intricately involved with the complex courthouse financing scheme. CCDC also owns and manages the majority of downtown parking facilities, including courthouse parking.

When the courthouse opened in early 2002, visitors were charged one dollar ($1) per hour for parking. Since then, CCDC has changed the fee structure for all of their parking facilities, including at the courthouse. They now provide the first hour of parking free, but have raised rates to $2.50 per hour.

Despite having increased their hourly parking rate a hundred and fifty percent since the courthouse opened, representatives of CCDC came to the Board last week to let my Commission colleagues and I know that revenues are lower than expected and they need more money to offset the cost of payments for the courthouse bond debt. CCDC wants either increased parking rates, or a payment each year from county taxpayers, to make up the deficit. When I asked the amount of the deficit, no one present at the meeting from CCDC was able to answer my question. What we do know, at this point, is that there is a deficit.

No matter how well intentioned at the time, no part of the much ballyhooed courthouse financing scheme worked as intended. The folks who fought against using “creative” financing (including former legislators Robert “Bob” Forrey, Jim Auld, Rachel Gilbert and Rod Beck) for a new Ada County courthouse were right. It didn’t work. Sadly, Ada County’s taxpayers are now paying the price.

Hat tip to the Boise Guardian, which adds that "Urban renewal opponents predicted for years that taxpayers would ultimately be left holding the bag, but urban renewal PROponents have always claimed that any default risk would be only on the bondholders and 'bond insurance' would protect them."

Stimulating Oregon

Will the national stimulus package - assuming it clears Congress in a form somewhere similar to originally intended - actually do the job? Economists seem torn every which direction about exactly what the nation's sagging economy really needs. Something, yes. But what exactly?

The prompt passage of localized stimulus efforts may give us some answers before long. Today's legislative passage of the Oregon stimulus - small by comparison with the national, but $176 million still ain't tiny - may offer some ideas.

The idea is that it would create 3,000 jobs, all of them private-sector. The projects involved are supposed to be ready to go, and should be underway by April 1. That should provide for an early laboratory.

A lot of what's happening economically is psychological - a downer feeling that keeps money in pockets and slows the economy. The idea is that an infusion of this amount of money and jobs might change the way people think.

Will it work? We may know soon.

So . . . Wyden at HHS?

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

The job for secretary of Health & Human Services is open. Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who seemed here to be the most logical northwesterner for it, isn't interested (though he says he's open to an advisory role). There's another Northwest name very much on the table, though: Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

There's a case here too. (As Blue Oregon notes, in its posts on the arguments for both Wyden and Kitzhaber.)

There's some overlap between the two, but significant differences as well.

There is, for Democrats, a political downside to a Wyden pick: His Senate seat would be up for grabs. And, Democratic success in Oregon lately notwithstanding, you should assume that it would be. The rule in Oregon is that a Senate vacancy prompts a special election. The last time that happened, about a dozen years ago, the opening seat had been held for three decades by a Republican; the winner in that special election was a Democrat - Wyden. Only months later the other seat was up for election, and it was won by the Republican Wyden narrowly defeated: Gordon Smith. If Wyden's seat opened now, might Smith run for it? Couldn't rule it out. Might he win? Couldn't rule that out, either. In fact, he probably would start out as something of a frontrunner.

But put all that aside and consider the idea of Wyden as HHS secretary, and in effect as one of the primary leaders of the health care reform effort. (more…)

Still not enough

Sherril Huff

Sherril Huff

You have to wonder what the Republicans were thinking about the elective office of King County elections chief. Were they thinking they'd somehow easily win it and thereby gain the keys to the kingdom (as it were)?

State Senator Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who ran for the job, seemed to have thought so. Her reaction to the candidacy - and Republican Party endorsement - of another Republican, former King County Councilmember David Irons, was: "It's almost like they have a death wish," and called him a "spoiler." (Which seems ironic, since it was Irons who came in second place, substantially ahead of Roach.)

The fact that King County is majority Democratic certainly helped the appointed elections director - and winner of the election on Tuesday, Sherril Huff. She was appointed in 2007 by Executive Ron Sims, a Democrat, and got support from the county's Democratic organization. The guess here, though, is that this was less important than her incumbency and her background in elections, at Kitsap County as well as King. Voters tend not to oust incumbents unless they have a strong reason to; the Seattle Times concluded, "Huff is credited with cleaning up the operation and dramatically improving organizational and cultural climate in elections. The proof was in the latest election. King County produced a much smoother election in 2008 than it did in 2004 and Huff gets a lot of credit."

If you assume a Huff v. single Republican result, that wouldn't have done the job; Huff took 44.0% (not shabby for a marginally-known first-time candidate in a six-way race), while Irons and Roach together took 36%. the rest went to three minor candidates.

It's hard not to look on this result as a referendum on whether King County elections are being run decently. The voters, at least the 15% of registrants who voted Tuesday, seem to have concluded they are.

The case for Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

UPDATE Kitzhaber is quoted as saying he wouldn't be interested in a cabinet-level job, though he might be willing to serve as a health policy advisor in some other capacity.

Among the many names circulating to replace Tom Daschle in the key Health & Human Services/health care reform position, many are well-known (from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to Howard Dean and Kathleen Sebelius). One of the lesser-known to the national audience, but mentioned repeatedly as a prospect, is former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

Every candidate mentioned so far has a set of assets and liabilities. Does Kitzhaber make sense for HHS?

He might make excellent sense, if a number of conditions - some applying to him, some to the situation in D.C. - hold true. So, the case for Kitzhaber:

First, on the D.C. side. Part of the appeal (for Barack Obama at least) of Daschle is that the South Dakotan has been tight with the new president: They could work closely together. Another asset is Daschle's experience in Washington, as a majority leader in the Senate: He knows how Washington works from deep inside, and presumably would be a power player in moving health policy. If those points are requirements for the position, then Kitzhaber isn't a fit.

But Obama could look at it another way. His administration already has plenty of D.C. insiders. His party has solid control of the Congress - legislation could be rammed through, if need be, if it has broad support. Building that support would be at least as important, and probably more important, outside Capitol Hill than it would be on. And while having a close friend in this key spot would be a nice thing, it shouldn't be necessary. Being president means developing a lot of relationships with a lot of people. And one other thing: Obama seems much more intent on the broad goals of health policy - such as getting everyone or nearly everyone insured - than on the details, which seem to be more negotiable. He might find it helpful to have in place someone who has worked through the implications of what's happening, and can make effective judgements on policy from a solid knowledge base.

And: There are members of Congress who have health care ideas of their own, and probably no one is more centrally based to push them than Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who already actually has bipartisan support for a large bill that actually would do quite a lot on health care.

Looked at that way, how might Kitzhaber fit? (more…)

Anti-indoctrination, anti-free speech?

Some ideas are just awfully hard to legislate. Consider the case of Washington Senate Bill 5446, the Worker Privacy Act, which as it turns out is one of the hottest pieces of legislation in the Northwest this year.

Here is how Rick Bender of the Washington State Labor Council set it up at a Senate Labor Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee hearing on it today: currently, employers can require employees to go to meetings or listen to harangues or get into discussions about such things as politics and religion and what charities they will give to, or not. Bender: "When an employer can force you to listen to or participate in non-job performance related speech, on pain of discharge, discipline or threat, this reality creates a powerful and illegitimate form of compulsion. What worker can afford to risk losing their job? . . . So instead, workers are forced to forego their first amendment rights, and forced to listen to speech on matters of individual conscience."

Another witness: "Under current law, employers can and do hold mandatory meetings in which they make it clear that certain ways of voting are preferrred or better. This is not about the freedom of an employer to make his or her political beliefs known. It's about requiring an employee to listen to that political belief." (There have been plenty of reports of this sort of thing happening; a Wall Street Journal article has outlined numerous cases at Wal-Mart.)

So, SB5446, which generally makes that kind of thing - discussions on matters like that, as opposed to discussions that relate to the work or workplace - illegal. There seems to be some logic to the point. But getting it to practical legislation is a difficult matter.

Senator Janea Holmqust, R-Moses Lake, noted that the language of the bill refers to "communications" - very broad, prospectively raising questions about even casual hallway conversations. (more…)

Sims and housing

Ron Sims

Ron Sims

Ron Sims, executive of King County for now into his third term, is a highly skilled politician - one of the best speakers in the Northwest, among other things - has been something of a political lightning rod for years. Enough that there's been some talk that an attempt at a fourth term would be problematic. As recently as December 17, the Seattle Times was reporting, "If Ron Sims runs for a fourth term as King County executive, it will be against the advice of State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, who has joined other former Sims political allies in pushing for him to step aside after next year." Even some of his friends said they were "dreading the prospect of a campaign for a fourth term."

Over on Sound Politics, you'll find a hit from within a few hours of the nomination of Sims as Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:

Oops. On the day that Ron Sims gets nominated to a senior position in the Obama administration, he reveals more ethical shortcomings by committing a serious PDC violation, earning himself a formal complaint. See the Twitter box in the upper right corner of the King County Executive web page. Since about 6pm Sunday it's had a link to a P-I editorial promoting Sims' preferred candidate for Elections Director.

That may not be all that comes to the Senate's attention, but the guess here is that Sims won't have much trouble with Senate confirmation. He does have support, to begin with, from both of his state's senators, and the governor.

Although this is the number 2 slot at HUD, the agency's press release says he "will be charged with managing HUD's day-to-day operations, a nearly $39 billion annual operating budget and the agency's 8,500 employees." And, presumably, getting into housing policy to some extent.

Sims becomes, then, the top Northwest figure in the Obama Administration, in a position of some note since housing happens to be unusually central right now.

In thinking about his work at King County, "Sims" and "housing" don't necessarily go smack-up together. That said, he is a strong and effective figure. Today's Joni Balter column in the Times sums up the case for him.